Tributes for late ANC leader Jessie Duarte

THE ANC, South Africa’s governing party, has led South Africans in paying tribute to leading political activist Jessie Duarte, the organisation’s deputy secretary-general who has passed on after a battle with cancer.

Duarte, stepped down from her ANC duties to focus on her health. She passed away on Sunday and was buried later in the day, in line with Muslim rites. The South African government honoured Duarte by declaring an official funeral for her.

SA President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to Duarte, whom he described as a long-time anti-apartheid activist who served as a special assistant to former President Nelson Mandela and struggle stalwart Walter Sisulu. Ramaphosa passed his condolences to Duarte’s family, her comrades. He said Duarte had dedicated her life to the liberation of South Africa, particularly the emancipation of women.

Ramaphosa said: “Comrade Jessie was a faithful, dedicated and fiercely loyal leader of the African National Congress. It is difficult to imagine the ANC without our beloved DSG, and to think that we will never again hear her voice and her laughter carrying down the corridors of Luthuli House. For close on 10 years, she served as ANC Deputy Secretary General. For 25 years, she served on its National Executive Committee.

“And from the years of her youth to her final days, she served the people of South Africa with dedication, with humility and with a passion that is all too rare. She worked alongside great leaders of our struggle. She learnt the politics of liberation from leaders like Mama Albertina Sisulu, Oom Beyers Naudé and Madiba. From them she imbibed the qualities of revolutionary leadership. Qualities that she was to demonstrate in every position she occupied. Qualities that she was to pass on to future generations of activists.

“Throughout her life, Jessie Duarte was an organiser. She was an organiser of women. As the Secretary of the Federation of Transvaal Women – FEDTRAW – she was part of building and leading a powerful women’s movement that directly challenged the oppression of black women and shook the foundations of the apartheid state. She mobilised women across the country to resist the restrictions imposed upon them by a racist and sexist political system and a patriarchal society.

“Like the generations that had come before, like the defiant women who burnt their passes in 1913, like the defiant women who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956, Jessie was determined that women should occupy their rightful place in the struggle for national liberation. We remember her immense contribution to the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the experiences of women in detention.

“We remember the courage with which she spoke against the abuse of women not just by the apartheid security forces, but within the ranks of the liberation movement itself. Even in the democratic era, Jessie was relentless in advancing the position of women in all areas of public and private life. She confronted the patriarchal attitudes and practices that sought to diminish the role and contribution of women in Parliament, in government and across society. She did not hesitate to confront inadequate representation of women in the ANC itself.

“Cde Jessie was an organiser of workers. Her involvement in the mobilisation of domestic workers was part of a lifelong commitment to the struggles of the working class. Cde Jessie was an organiser of writers. Her role in the formation of the Congress of South African Writers and her work for Ravan Press revealed not only her love for literature, but also her conviction that writing, art and culture serve as powerful instruments of empowerment and liberation. Comrade Jessie said last year that she was looking forward to writing books during her retirement.”

In its tribute, the ANC said: “The passing of Comrade Jessie is a great loss, not only to the family but to the democratic movement and the country as a whole. As a committed internationalist and former diplomat, not only will she be mourned by South Africa, but by colleagues and comrades on the African continent and in the international progressive movement.

“She dedicated her entire struggle for a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, prosperous, and just South Africa. A committed gender activist, she relentlessly championed the emancipation and empowerment of women. Her life and work reflected a consistent commitment to advancing the rights of the poor and marginalised.”

Duarte is a former MEC for Safety in Gauteng and ex-SA Ambassador to Mozambique.

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